The redbay ambrosia beetle spreads fungus in avocado groves. 

By Elisabeth Sherman
July 14, 2017
Tastyart Ltd Rob White / Getty Images

A tiny beetle is turning out to be a huge nuisance for Florida’s avocado crops. The female redbay ambrosia beetle has already killed 300 million redbay trees. The bug carries with it a fungus called laurel wilt, that devastates avocado trees, sassafras (which is used to make the spicy powder used in gumbo called filé), and the aforementioned redbay tree.

In a statement on the redbay beetle threat, Mississippi State University wrote that, “In Florida, the beetle and the fungus it transmits have caused catastrophic damage in some avocado groves.”

According to a Fox News report, the redbay ambrosia beetle burrows into the tree and spreads the fungus – which her offspring use as a food source – causing the plant to wilt and die in just a few short weeks.

John Riggins, an associate professor of forest entomology at Mississippi State University told Fox that controlling the invasive beetle species isn’t going well so far, though trees could potentially be injected with a fungicide before the beetle finds her way in.

“There's not a lot we can do to stop it at this point,” he said.

Though California accounts for the majority of America’s avocado production, the beetle still represents a significant threat to our avocado supply in Florida. The state’s avocado market is valued at a substantial $19 million, and researchers worry that the bug could spread to Mexico, where it could potentially ravage avocado trees there too, with disastrous consequences.

Jason Smith, a forest pathologist at the University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation called the invasion of the fungus into these plants “unprecedented in biology,” but researchers are currently looking into ways to reintroduce fungus resistant plants to the groves where these trees grow, so they aren't without hope that our avocados may still be saved. 

Between rising avocado prices and hand injuries caused by cutting the fruit open, and now this avocado-targeting beetle on the loose, 2017 may be the year that we learned to never take our precious avocados for granted.